Preparing for Before and After the Fire

Chris Mc Loone   Chris Mc Loone

As I write this, Houston, Texas, is still enduring the effects of Hurricane Harvey.

The rains have not stopped, and the water continues to rise. The images and video coming from the region are striking, and stories of weary rescuers trying to keep up with calls for assistance remind us all how taxing these storms can be and how they stress the emergency response systems in place. The Federal Emergency Mangement Agency has deployed as well as the U.S. Coast Guard.

There are two images that stick out in my mind so far as I follow the stories coming out of that region. One is of a Houston (TX) Fire Department’s pumper completely submerged, and the other is of a fire department pumper covered in debris from the collapsed fire station in which it was housed.

The images are dramatic, and they show how quickly a natural disaster can impact the men and women who pledge to protect their communities; how suddenly these men and women can go from being rescuers to being rescued. These images also serve as reminders to all fire departments to prepare for before and after the fire.

No matter how good our meteorological technology gets, Mother Nature throws a wrench in the works any time she wants. We’ve all been there for the busts – ensuring the station is staffed during the storm only to have it track just enough east or west for it not to have any impact on the region we’re covering. And, we’ve all been there for the surprises when remnants of a storm come through overnight, surprising the weather forecasters and responders alike. How many times have we put on the chains for snow only to not need them? But, sometimes we find ourselves driving with the chains to a working job, trying to control the urge to go faster than the chains will allow us to.

A few years ago, we were on duty at the station overnight for a hurricane that started off with a bang but quickly moved away. But, during the time we were in the thick of it, we were responding to multiple calls through some heavy rains and winds. During one response, a tree came down right across the bumper of one of our engines – tore the bell right off the side of the truck. Were it not for the operator driving for the conditions he faced and having enough time to slow down as the tree fell, it easily could have fallen on the cab, which was fully staffed (driver, officer, crew of six).

Storms can sometimes be hit or miss. Sometimes there is no doubt a region will take a direct hit, and other times, despite the best of intentions, the best forecasters can say is, “It depends on the track of the storm.” The key is for fire departments to be prepared.

By prepared, in this case, I mean prepared at the station. Does your department carry enough insurance on the building and everything kept in it should a disaster strike? In recent months we’ve covered station fires, but what about a department like the one in Tivoli, Texas, where Hurricane Harvey took out the fire station, collapsing it on top of its apparatus? Is your department prepared to cover the replacement of the structure and possibly the apparatus – along with whatever equipment is damaged?

Is your department prepared for the length of time it will take to replace the building or rigs inside of it? We had damage to our bumper when the tree came down, the bell required replacement, and where the bell was mounted required some body work. This didn’t take place overnight. Calling out the insurance adjuster (who is already assuredly busy fielding myriad other calls from customers), processing the paperwork, and taking the truck out of service for the actual repairs to be made all take time. If your department is small, with maybe only one rig, how will your response area be covered while the unit is out of service for repair?

Certainly, there are differences between larger municipal and smaller rural departments. But, we are all in the business of preparation. It is critically important that as we prepare to help others, we are also preparing for if disaster strikes back at the station or during a response. We are programmed to help others, but don’t forget to take the necessary steps to help yourselves. Don’t put off increasing insurance when necessary. Don’t put off figuring out how to cover your first due until after you’re prevented from doing it. Prepare now for the before and after.

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